Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Calling PM to talks, unions warn of vax mandate pushback

Published:Thursday | January 13, 2022 | 12:10 AM

The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has penned a letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness seeking audience following his announcement in Parliament on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test mandate is coming for public-sector workers...

The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has penned a letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness seeking audience following his announcement in Parliament on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test mandate is coming for public-sector workers.

JCTU President Helene Davis Whyte said that while the disclosure does not come as a surprise, discussions need to be had before any such action is taken.

Davis Whyte told The Gleaner on Wednesday that there would be pushback from some government employees where the vaccination rate remains low.

She said that while some employees have expressed apprehension about the jab, others have expressed firm opposition.

“We would have thought that the prime minister or his designate would have had those discussions before moving to implement any such mandate or requirement,” said Davis Whyte.

She said that the announcement has put the JCTU on the back foot in terms of having answers for clients wanting more information on the latest announcement.

The JCTU is in support of COVID-19 vaccination.

The National COVID-19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force, headed by Professor Gordon Shirley, had recommended last year that a vaccinate-or-test protocol be instituted for certain categories of workers.

Approximately 21 per cent of the Jamaican population is fully vaccinated.

In the Lower House on Tuesday, Holness said the Government was taking steps to guarantee the continued operation of state services amid the fourth wave of the pandemic. Bed occupancy at all major hospitals has exceeded 90 per cent of capacity.

Jamaica on Tuesday recorded 1,207 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

“We had indicated long ago that we will put in place measures for testing and for requiring vaccination for public-sector workers. The country must move on. We must move on with our lives,” the prime minister said.

“We must get our economy back on track. We cannot allow ourselves to be defeated by the pandemic.”

Holness did not specify a timeline for implementation of the policy, which mirrors the decision of some private-sector organisations, several of which have been taken to court by their employees.

Pointing to a guidance document developed by the private sector and the JCTU on preparatory steps to vaccination policies, she said a risk analysis should first be done.

“So once our letter reaches the prime minister, then we can have the discussion, and also, we would hope, with the minister of health so that what is being proposed is clear and they would have the benefit of our position going forward,” she said.